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Publisher Description

Modern society tends to portray men of history to be great saints or great sinners. In fact, biographers are often inclined, depending on their personal predilections, to portray their subjects as one of these two extremes, especially when someone is seen by a certain group as an example of religious ideals or values. Writers are often afraid that if any of the person's mistakes come to light, it will somehow disqualify them from being admired. Of course, the problem is that even the most influential men were still human, and therefore subject to the same great achievements and tremendous failures as anyone living during the modern era.

Dr. David Livingstone is an excellent example of this fact. Born into a poor family in Scotland, Livingstone worked hard, saved his money, and volunteered for missionary service, obviously the actions of a saint. He studied medicine, trained to care for others, and made his way to Africa to serve the needy people there, and to share with them the Christian faith. Once in Africa, he married the daughter of other missionaries and together they committed their lives to good works. They also explored some of the most desperate portions of Africa, sending back to England fascinating letters telling of adventures and new discoveries. The intrigued public could not get enough of his reports; he went on to write several books about his adventures, and the British press canonized them as the work of a celebrity saint.

But Livingstone was cut out to be neither saint nor celebrity, and instead came to realize that he was more interested in exploring and science than he was the souls of men. Today, such a revelation would be met with little more than a shrug of the shoulders, but Victorian England was a different environment, and Livingstone would remain wracked with guilt even as his sovereign and others stepped forward to offer him both authority and funding to pursue his dreams. In fact, he became so obsessed with justifying his decision that it would ultimately cost him both his own life and that of a number of other people.

At the same time, he remained driven to relieve African society of the scourge of slavery, even as he repeatedly took advantage of African individuals offered to his service by their chiefs. It seems that he hated slavery in general but was willing to accept at least some level of forced servitude if it served what he saw as a greater purpose. If anything, these kinds of foibles made him a man of his era, neither saint nor sinner but instead something much more fascinating: a human being who struggled and fell, but got up again and again in an effort to try to do the right thing.

Biographies & Memoirs
Kenneth Ray
hr min
December 15
Charles River Editors